Sunday, 29 September 2013

Yes, please...

The Pink Star, the most valuable diamond ever to be offered at auction.

I have the perfect outfit to go with this...

Read more

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

It is not enough to stand before the camera and take off some clothes

Oh how we love to discover a new, forgotten diva here at Dolores Delargo Towers...

Silvana Pampanini was for a time one of the world's top "sex symbols". Launched into (mainly continental) movies in the late 1940s, before Signorina Loren and Signorina Lollobrigida became household names she was the Italian beauty about whom the Hollywood gossips raved.

A former beauty queen, her name was linked romantically with the likes of Tyrone Power, William Holden, Orson Welles, Omar Sharif, George DeWitt and even Fidel Castro. She never married, however, despite all her romantic entanglements.

Happily still alive and kicking, Signorina Pampanini retired from movie-making in the 60s yet is still a popular television show guest, at almost 90 years of age.

“The cinema requires dedication and study, like any other genre. It is not enough to stand before the camera and take off some clothes."

Here is the young Silvana in 1950 in one of her early breakthrough movies Bellezza in Bicicletta, in which she sings the title song:

Buon compleanno, Sylvana Pampanini (born 25th September 1925)

Monday, 23 September 2013


“Days decrease, And autumn grows, autumn in everything.” - Robert Browning

“Autumn...the year's last, loveliest smile.” - William Cullen Bryant

The equinox has passed.

The Autumn/Winter Season has begun in earnest.

Friday, 20 September 2013

This weekend I shall mostly be dressing casual... Miss Sophia Loren!

"A woman's dress should be like a barbed-wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view."

Sophia Loren (born Sofia Scicolone, 20th September 1934)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Once is enough?

“Every one of us lives this life just once. If we are honest, to live once is enough.”

"I never said, 'I want to be alone.' I only said, 'I want to be left alone.' There is all the difference."

"I'm afraid of nothing except being bored."

Greta Garbo (born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, 18th September 1905 – 15th April 1990)

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

An outsider who became an insider

Sir Frederick Ashton was inspired to dance at the age of 13, when he saw a performance by the legendary Anna Pavlova.

He went on to become one of the most distinguished choreographers of the 20th century, creating more than 100 ballets over an illustrious 60-year career, and collaborating with the great and the good including Dame Margot Fonteyn, Dame Marie Rambert, Dame Ninette de Valois, Sir Robert Helpmann, Rudolf Nureyev, Sir Cecil Beaton, and even Gertrude Stein.

From The Guardian:
He was an outsider who became an insider. Raised in South America, he moved to the UK in 1919 and went on to embody the "English style" of ballet – lyrical rather than dramatic, preferring nuance over statement – and moved into the highest echelons of English society.

In the early days, Ashton was forever hanging around with artists, aristocrats and assorted "bright young things" – a blithe spirit that his work reflected. That changed in 1939, with his mother's death and the outbreak of the second world war, during which Ashton served in the RAF. He returned to dance with a new depth, finding his mature voice in works such as Symphonic Variations (1946) and the first full-length British ballet, Cinderella (1948). He was made assistant director of the Royal Ballet in 1952 and director in 1963, presiding over its "golden age" until he was replaced by Kenneth MacMillan in 1970. The mishandling of his departure caused much bitterness, but Ashton continued contributing occasional pieces to the Royal repertory almost until his death in 1988, though he often felt more appreciated in America than in Britain.
However America had George Balanchine, who, in a parallel timeline to Sir Fred, co-founded a most important ballet company (his the New York Ballet Company, Fred's - with Dame Ninette - the Sadlers Wells Company that became The Royal Ballet).

From The New Criterion:
Ashton didn’t have ballet in his body the way Balanchine did - a consummation as metaphysical as it is muscular (a consummation Ashton devoutly wished). He compensated with imagination, with stylish port de bras, and with ballets that were often heavily scripted, their clever, edgy librettos written by Edith Sitwell and Gertrude Stein.

Indeed, Ashton’s ballets are often quite pointed, full of elaborate punctuation and exclamation. While Balanchine, from the beginning, understood the pointe as a form of divination, a key into ether (in the first bars of Serenade, when the stage of seventeen women snap their toes open into first position, you feel as if the lock on eternity has sprung), an Ashton pointe was an end in itself, a still point of perfection (in Ashton’s Cinderella, Act Two ends with a rich, Leonardo-esque web of stage perspectives, lines and eyes of dancers all aimed toward Cinderella’s empty pink-satin pointe shoe, symbol of la danse). Balanchine knew ballet from the inside out. Ashton was working from the outside in, trying to fill that shoe.

In her comprehensive biography (to which Sir Freddie gave his - often reluctant - support) Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton, writer and dancer Julie Kavanagh explores the great man's personal as well as professional life, and found that his relationships with his male lovers (many of them skilled dancers in his own productions, his "secret muses") were often unsatisfying.

He was rebuffed by Fonteyn's (professional) partner Michael Somes, and wrote longing letters in his pursuit of the American Richard Beard. As the author writes, "the unattainable was then, as it continued to be for Ashton, the only enduring attraction." He did, however, appear to find some semblance of happiness with Martyn Thomas, an interior decorator. Their relationship endured for two decades until Thomas's death in 1985.

It is Sir Frederick Ashton's artistic legacy for which his legend endures, however. And here are just a couple of examples...

A piece Sir Freddie used to dance himself on occasion, here's his famous comic choreography for "The Clog Dance" from La Fille Mal Gardée (music by Peter Ludwig Hertel):

The beautiful Les Patineurs (music by Giacomo Meyerbeer, arranged by Constant Lambert):

And, finally - choreographed for her 60th birthday gala by Sir Freddie, here's Margot Fonteyn in Salut d'Amour - he even joins her in triumph at the end!

"Choreography is my whole being, my whole life, my reason for living, pour into it all my love, my frustrations, and sometimes autobiographical details."

"I never stop observing."

Sir Frederick William Mallandaine Ashton OM, CH, CBE (17th September 1904 – 18th August 1988)

Friday, 13 September 2013

This weekend I'm mainly dressing casual... Miss Claudette Colbert (looking good for 110)!

"I've always believed that acting is instinct to start with; you either have it or you don't."

"Hollywood was not my dream, you know. I only left Broadway when the crash came. The Depression killed the theatre, and the pictures were manna from heaven."

"Most of us don't know about happiness until it's over."

"Laughter - it's the key to everything. To a day of gloom or despair, to happy work, to life."

Claudette Colbert (13th September 1903 – 30th July 1996)

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Sunglasses are like eyeshadow. They make everything look younger and prettier.

Fashion Week hoo-ha is upon us again, with New York in full swing and London about to be invaded by fashionistas this weekend.

Yesterday our focus was on the lovely Elsa Schiaparelli. Coincidentally sharing her birthday - and it was his 80th - was her fellow couturier the ever-scathing Karl Lagerfeld.

The man is as well known for his quotable comments as for his couture, so here is a selection:
  • "I am basically the most superficial person in the world."
  • "When I was a child I asked my mother what homosexuality was about and she said - and this was 100 years ago in Germany and she was very open-minded - 'It's like hair color. It's nothing. Some people are blond and some people have dark hair. It's not a subject.' This was a very healthy attitude."
  • "Gratitude is a sticky feeling."
  • "Coming out after a show is good discipline for me because I have to watch out that I don't look like an old garden gnome next to all these 20-year-old models."
  • "Elegance has nothing to do with fashion."
  • "I'm sorry. What I say is only applicable as I am saying it."
  • "I think tattoos are horrible. It's like living in a Pucci dress full-time."
  • "I hate the word 'cheap'. People are cheap. Clothing is either expensive or inexpensive."
  • "I really love animals, particularly when they are stuffed with cotton or polyester. That way you can guarantee that they won't bite, won't claw, won't smell bad and make your things dirty."
  • "I am made of total egoism."
  • "My job is to bring out in people what they wouldn't dare do themselves."
  • "Sunglasses are like eyeshadow. They make everything look younger and prettier."
  • "I avoid thinking. I want to have an easy life without problems."
  • "You cannot take yourself too seriously."
But why have just one Karl Lagerfeld, when you can have two?

Karl Otto Lagerfeld (née Lagerfeldt, born 10th September 1933)

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Difficult times, outrageous fashion

From Vogue:
Schiaparelli’s designs deliberately subverted traditional notions of beauty - fanciful, bizarre, and irreverent ideas that she developed early in life. Berated by her [Italian] mother for her homely looks, she grew up thinking of whimsical ways to beautify herself.

Her astronomer uncle tried to allay her concerns about a cluster of moles on her cheek by noting their resemblance to the Big Dipper; years later, she recreated the constellation on the chairs in her salon, in embroideries, and on a cherished brooch.

Schiap once took flower seeds and sowed them in her ears, mouth, and nose, in the hopes that she would blossom into a beauty. “To have a face covered with flowers like a heavenly garden would indeed be a wonderful thing!” she wrote in her autobiography.
Elsa Schiaparelli was truly a woman ahead of her time.

Newly arrived in Paris in the mid 1920s after the break-up of her marriage in New York, she quickly made influential connections in the surrealist art world, collaborating on various designs with such artists as Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali.

She made her name as something of an innovator. In addition to such dramatic concoctions as the Lobster Dress, gloves with gold claws and the Shoe Hat, her design ideas spawned the wrap-around dress, the “miniature hat” fascinator, the peplum jacket, harem pants, culottes, the wedge heel, the women's "power suit" with shoulder pads, the perfume bottle in the shape of the female body, and, of course - Shocking Pink!

Famously described as “ aggressive, brawling, warrior pink” by Yves Saint Laurent, this new and vibrant colour was well suited to the extravagant styles of '30s couture and the glamour of Hollywood, became popular again in the "colour explosion" of Carnaby Street in the '60s, and of course endures today.

Elsa's popularity waned in the face of stiff competition from her hated rival Coco Chanel - she sneeringly called Elsa "an Italian designer who makes clothes",; to which Elsa retorted by referring to Coco as "that milliner" - and others such as Christian Dior and his "New Look", and the House of Schiaparelli closed in 1954. Eventually she purchased a house in the resort of Hammamet (popular with the rich and famous of the "jet set"), and spent her retirement moving between Paris and Tunisia until her death in 1973.

Yet, to great fanfare - and with the support and backing of such grandees of fashion as Diana Vreeland and Christian Lacroix, the House of Schiaparelli has risen once more. It was re-launched in time for Paris Fashion Week in Autumn 2012. Read more about the revival, and M Lacroix's tribute to Elsa.

Facts about Elsa:
  • The surname Schiaparelli is pronounced with a hard "ch", as in "school".
  • She single-handedly created the concept of the "boutique" when she started selling her sweaters and accessories in the corner of her popular salon in the Rue de la Paix.
  • She was grandmother to Cabaret actress Marisa Berenson and Antony Perkins' widow Berry Berenson, who was killed in the Twin Towers terrorist atrocity (12 years ago tomorrow).
  • In her heyday, her clients included Mae West (upon whose curvy figure the aforementioned "torso" perfume bottle was based), Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor and the heiress Daisy Fellowes. Her style was beloved of Anna Piaggi and John Galliano.
  • She experimented with acrylic, cellophane, a rayon jersey called "Jersela" and a rayon with metal threads called "Fildifer" - the first time synthetic materials were used in couture.

"Dress designing ... is to me not a profession but an art. A dress cannot just hang like a painting on the wall, or like a book remain intact and live a long and sheltered life. A dress has no life of its own unless it is worn, and as soon as this happens another personality takes over from you and animates it, or tries to, glorifies or destroys it, or makes it into a song of beauty."

"Never fit a dress to fit the body but train the body to fit the dress."

"I gave to pink the nerve of the red, a neon pink, an unreal pink."

"In difficult times fashion is always outrageous."

"The moment people stop copying you, you have ceased to be news."

Elsa Schiaparelli (10th September 1890 - 13th November 1973)

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Rosa Parks of the gay rights movement

It is most peculiar to think - in this day and age when "gay rights" equals "let's ape heterosexual mariage norms", and so-called "straight-acting" gays viciously decry campness, drag shows, Gay Pride marches and "men who have sex with men who they haven't previously met at a social function or online" - that in living memory there was a time when gay people could be arrested just for being gay.

In the UK it was bad enough, but in the USA ["Land of the Free"™] the opression was seemingly endless. Even in San Francisco. Yet there was one fantabulosa drag queen who was determined to put a stop to all that - José Sarria, Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco José I, The Widow Norton!

A precursor to Harvey Milk by almost two decades, this plucky subversive performer mixed political aspirations with mind-blowing campness - using his performing "role" as Madame Butterfly to sermonise about homosexual rights and leading a sing-along of "God Save the Nelly Queens..."

The Empress sadly died recently, and her funeral was last Friday. Camp to the end, The Widow Norton left strict instructions to mourners. Female titleholders from her Imperial Court - the gay organisation and charity he started in 1965 - were requested to wear "black/dark full length (understated) mourning attire, crowns, shoulder length veils covering both crowns and one’s face" along with "black gloves (opera length if wearing short sleeves)."

Males titleholders were "respectfully requested to wear dark suits, crowns and white gloves."

In its obituary, The San Francisco Chronicle led the tributes to this remarkable individual:
An Army veteran, José Sarria collected nearly 6,000 votes in an unsuccessful 1961 campaign for San Francisco supervisor that demonstrated the political clout of the city's gay community for the first time.

"He paved the way for every LGBT elected official in the United States," sad Paul Boneberg, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco. "Before José Sarria, people couldn't grasp that a gay candidate could be taken seriously."

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, called Mr. Sarria a "fearless community leader."

"When José threw his hat into the ring for San Francisco supervisor more than 50 years ago, he became one of the first to publicly proclaim that there is no reason, constitutional or otherwise, to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people first-class citizenship, respect and dignity under the law," Leno said in a statement. "José's visionary and legendary leadership helped build the foundation for our successful modern-day LGBT civil rights movement."

Before his groundbreaking campaign, Mr. Sarria was known for his drag performances at the Black Cat on Montgomery Street, which helped make the spot one of the country's most famous gay bars before it closed in 1964. In the 1950s, police routinely arrested patrons of gay bars under California's anti-sodomy laws, but Mr. Sarria would often lead the Black Cat crowd outside to serenade the county jail across the street.

Boneberg said it was Mr. Sarria's outrage over the police raids that prompted his run for office.

"He didn't have a suit to wear. He had amazing outfits to perform drag, but he had to borrow a suit from a friend," said Bevan Dufty, a former San Francisco supervisor who dedicated the block of 16th Street in front of the Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library as José Sarria Court in 2006. "He was saucy and flirty and off-colour."

In 1965, Mr. Sarria declared himself "Empress José I, The Widow Norton," an homage to the eccentric San Francisco figure Emperor Norton. With that act, Mr. Sarria founded the International Imperial Court System, a fundraising network that has raised millions for charitable causes through costume-ball fundraisers and remains one of the oldest LGBT organizations in the world.

Nicole Murray-Ramirez, a San Diego human rights commissioner and Mr. Sarria's successor in the fundraising organization's leadership, said Mr. Sarria was "the Rosa Parks of the gay rights movement."

"José would say, 'I was tired of being treated like a second-class citizen,' " Murray-Ramirez said. "I hope the community will rediscover José and realize what an important person he was."
A pioneer, and a singularly remarkable person.

RIP, Your Majesty....

José Julio Sarria (12th December 1922 or 1923 – 19th August 2013)

[Eternal thanks to the lovely Mistress Maddie for enlightening us here at Dolores Delargo Towers about this fascinating character. Even if it was only after she died.]